By Kevin Smith
Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt praised the record turnout who began the new decade in Bognor Regis running.
Mr Sinton-Hewitt was a surprise visitor to the latest new year’s day parkrun in Hotham Park.
The event attracted 442 entrants – the biggest field since it began in May 2014- and Mr Sinton-Hewitt said all those who took part should be congratulated.
“Looking around at all these people here is amazing,” he said. “Most of them do not consider themselves runners.
“They just see themselves as ‘ordinary’ people but they are starting the new year in the right way.
“They are making sure they are out and about, having fun in the open air, meeting their friends and doing something healthy.”
The sizeable turnout in Bognor Regis played its part in an expected one million parkrunners around the world during the Christmas and new year period up to tomorrow’s regular run.
Mr Sinton-Hewitt, on his second visit to the event, said: “That’s phenomenal. I didn’t expect that when I started parkrun.
“I began parkrun in Bushy Park, Teddington, in October 2004 because I had depression and mental health issues. I needed to see my friends and I needed to be active.
“That is what the event is all about – being healthy and people being as active as they want to be.”
Wednesday’s parkrun at 10.30am was the sixth of the free runs to be held as a new year began and the 279th in the park.
The previous highest number of runners around the 5km course of one short and three long laps of the park was 428.
The first parkrunners of 2020 were led home by Jack Penfold, 23, a government communication officer, of Pagham.
The Tone Zone Runner completed the run in 18min 16sec – some 90 minutes after he achieved a personal best of 17:49 in the parkrun at Littlehampton for his initial first place of the day.
He said: “It’s all about sweating out the Prosecco from last night and training for the Paris Marathon, my fourth, in April.
“I’m looking to go under three hours for the first time. So, I’m training hard for that.
“Parkrun is a good way to get out and there’s always friends here who you see as well as getting some exercise.”
He just beat Steve Amos, who clocked 18:29, and Christo Oosthuizen, who also ran in Littlehampton, and came third in 18:46 in Hotham Park.
The first woman home also did the Bognor Regis-Littlehampton double. Alice Cox-Rusbridge also timed herself in 20:20 as she crossed the line for a fitting start to the new year.
The 19-year-old paramedic student from Pagham said: “This is my 109th parkrun. I love the community feeling. Everyone is so friendly.
“It boosts my mood in the morning and I leave here with a smile on my face. I started doing parkruns in 2017 and I like to see my running pals.”
But the run is about so much more than coming first. One of those with the biggest reason to celebrate on January 1, was Felpham resident Paula Bentley, 49, who took part in her 100th parkrun.
The legal assistant said: “It helps me to lose weight, keep fit and keep agile. There is also a good community here.
“Everyone is so positive. When you are flagging, there is always someone to tell you that you are doing well.”
“I started parkrun four years ago. I had gone on a learn to run course by Arun Wellbeing. I didn’t run at all and now I’m on my 100th parkrun. It feels fantastic.”
The run’s director, Anita Watkins, said: “This is a good start to the year. The event is more about being social than it is about running. There are people here today who come every week and others who are here for the first time.”
They included several dozen who had taken part in either the Littlehampton or Chichester parkruns earlier as well as visiting parkrunner from California.
But they all depended on the 23 volunteers to enable the event to take place.
Joining the helpers for the first time was barcode scanner Jane Court, 51, of Lavant.
She said: “My husband is running today. Parkrun is a good thing to do. It is social and helps you to keep fit.”